Taking the very, very, very long route to be at home for a snowy Christmas

Sometimes driving requires a kung fu grip.
Sometimes driving requires a kung fu grip.

Barring any tricky weather or traffic, it normally takes 6½ hours to get from Bellingham to Pullman (or vice versa) if you allow for one pit stop in Ellensburg for gas and a Wendy's chicken sandwich.

I know this because I went to college at Western Washington University and made the drive home to my parents' house four or five times a year for holidays. I kept up the tradition after I got a reporting gig at Bellingham's daily newspaper and stayed in town a few more years.

But I knew the drive home for Christmas in 2015 would be longer. I would be dropping my coworker Wilson off in Spokane (we both later landed gigs at the Inlander) and also planned to pick up a high school classmate who was living in Seattle, and her little pup. With my boyfriend at the time also along for the ride, it would be a full car with each stop requiring we forgo shortcuts.

That was OK. We all only had a short time to see our families, but we'd decided it was worth the drive, even if it took a long time, because seeing family is what makes the holidays special.

What we didn't expect was that week's massive snowfall in the mountains, with winter storms dumping more than 9 feet of snow. When we took off on Christmas Eve, I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass was closed.

See, it's great wishing for a white Christmas when you've already arrived. But by the time we hit Seattle, White Pass was our only option to traverse the mountains east. We weren't the only ones, which is how we found ourselves on a two-lane mountain pass moving at a crawl in traffic that felt like it stretched on for eternity.

Adding to my self-pitying Odyssean remembrance of this trip is that I drive a manual, and no one else in the car knew how. Even as we enjoyed the midwinter brightness of the snowy road reflecting the light from all our vehicles, the constant stop, go, stop, go was exhausting. All told, by the time we made it over the pass to Yakima, back up to I-90 to Spokane, then down to Pullman, I'd driven for more than 13 hours before finally collapsing in my childhood bedroom.

The next two days, we celebrated Christmas with my parents; relaxing, watching movies, playing games and eating delicious food. Adult beverages and good company helped ease the strain of the long journey, reminding us it was worth it.

Shortly, it was time to turn around and do it all again in reverse. It took another 12 hours to get back to Bellingham in the holiday traffic.

But for all the exhausting travel, the endless changing of mix CDs we'd already listened to, the many pit stops for snacks and bathroom breaks, it was worth it. We all got to be home with our loved ones.

This year, that long haul might look like two or more weeks of quarantine before travel to keep the family safe. For others, it might look like braving the long, trying journey of waiting an entire year just to get home for Christmas. It may be exhausting. You might get cranky. Your legs might cramp and your butt might hurt and you might wish that everyone around you were doing a better job at whatever they're doing. But be patient. It will be worth it. ♦

Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol Ski Swap @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Oct. 30-31
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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...